Continuing with our guide to PC graphics settings, part 2 has finally arrived. Within this article I will be covering a brief selection of image settings, common to most games.
[Skill Level: Bring ’em on]
Field of View (FOV)
FOV refers to the viewing angle at which the game’s world is displayed through the display. Where the human eye sees at an angle close to 180°, translating this same viewing perception to that of a screen can be very difficult due to the screen itself being a flat surface. Most commonly within First-Person-Shooter games, an FOV adjustment scale will be present, allowing gamers to increase the total amount of viewable area as to avoid the sense of claustrophobia or tunnel-vision. Not usually available within console games, FOV scalers can increase or decrease gameplay performance, requiring the system to render less or more of the game’s world. This is especially noticeable when a section of the character’s guns or melee weapons do not appear to be present on screen, or enlarged for the purposes of rendering less of the game.
While this does provide the system an amount of performance headroom due to less objects and scenery being on the screen at any given time, it can feel suffocating, requiring the player to sit further away from the screen. As PC gamers are provided with plenty of options for adjusting their gaming experiences, FOV scalers are considered a norm and often increased for a far greater gaming experience. Additionally, genres such as Sim Racers heavily benefit from FOV options, as I’ve personally found the Sony PlayStation’s Gran Turismo quite painful to play, as the games refuses to render the entirety of the steering wheel, along with enough visibility within the cockpit area. Project Cars on the other hand provides more than enough options for FOV adjustments, pertaining to all camera views within the interior viewing area of each and every vehicle.
Commonly frowned upon by the vast majority of PC gamers, motion blur is a camera technique designed to simulate the feeling of speed relative to the player’s movement. While console games primarily designed for low refresh rates of 30Hz may find some benefit in simulating movement of a higher speed in order to improve the smoothness of the moving image, where PC games benefit from higher frame rates of 60Hz and above such features hold no benefit as they simply ruin the image. Motion blur can be applied in a variety of ways, with some choosing to blur the environment through the character’s movement, and others choosing to blur the edges around character movements themselves. As some people suffer from motion sickness, games without an option to switch motion blur off can turn some players away.
Depth of Field (DOF)
A technique often utilized in photography, depth of field works by emphasizing the primary subject of a scenery such as character, weapon or explosion, placing the surrounding scenery out of focus in order to guide the player’s attention. In a game with a lot of cut-scenes, character dialogue, or gameplay mechanics where the camera angle is of high importance – such as quick time events, depth of field can be rather appealing as the player’s interaction with the game becomes semi-passive – much like a movie scene where the scenario is presented as a showpiece. When used in general gameplay such as those of a first-person-shooter or an open-world, depth of field can appear rather sloppy and messy, blurring out parts of the environments in order to compensate for draw distances and lacking levels of detail.
Tessellation is a rendering technique designed to improve the detail of models and geometry within a game. It works by breaking down the polygons of an object in to smaller pieces so that it appears more intricately detailed and refined in comparison to the real-world object it seeks to imitate. This feature was introduced with DirectX11 and was most prominently featured in Crysis 2. Enabling tessellation saw improvements to brick complexity, road surfaces, rubble depth and water movement.
Textures like those found on bricks and harsh surfaces receive a bumpy and layered look, with an enhanced level of 3D surfaces, as opposed to the flat appearance in its standard geometry. For objects which consist of simulated movements such as water, destructible geometry, and Batman’s cape in the Arkham series of games, tessellation adds a noticeable improvement and brings a level of enrichment to the environment as a whole. For certain titles and the implementation it may have received, it may not be all so noticeable and may not be worth the performance hit, if any.
Dynamic Resolution Scaling
Allowing the player to maintain a consistent frame rate, Dynamic Resolution Scaling is a process of rendering the game by dynamically scaling the level of detail, textures, lighting and resolution in a manner which is viable to the level of performance which the system is able to provide. Where most games may simply just scale the resolution, other graphical settings can be taken in to account. In some instances, the effect may not be all too noticeable within its visual scaling even though the frame rate is still being sustained.
This implementation allows a game to hold its frame rate with only a minor adjustment being made to its visual quality. As this technique works on a game by game basis, the effect of graphical settings being reduced in order to maintain the frame rate is also specific to each game. This setting is applied to the majority of console games available, and the option on PC allows greater control of visual settings and the experience being delivered by the game. Titles which currently use this effect on the PC include Forza Motorsport 6: Apex, Titanfall 2, Gears of War 4, and Forza Horizon 3. For those looking to game at high resolutions such as 4K, dynamic resolution scaling proves to be a great benefit, as the game will fall to a lower resolution when certain game sequences become too demanding to render at a consistent frame rate.
Functioning as a means to simulate the way light is absorbed by translucent objects, Subsurface Scattering provides a level of realism that appears natural within its approach. Surfaces such as skin, paper, glass and grass all contain a level of translucency which causes the surfaces to change colour when light shines through them. This can be most noticeably seen on elements such as ears, vases and certain materials in clothing. This also effects the textures of these objects as the colour will differ depending on the distance and the intensity of the light that’s shining on them.
Without Subsurface Scattering, surfaces can appear stiff, hardened or solid, as though there’s no flesh or internal structure to their models. This feature can be seen in titles such as Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Dues Ex: Mankind Divided, and Quantum Break. Depending on how well this effect has been implemented, the effect of enabling feature will differ for each game. The visual difference that this feature has is one that’s clearly noticeable, in many instances not being so demanding.
Using a similar technique to the Checkerboard Rendering method being implemented on the PlayStation 4 Pro, Temporal Filtering is an upscaling technique that works by rendering the game at half the resolution of the display – combined with X2 MSAA, which is then upscaled to accommodate the display. This rendering method of working with half the amount of pixels frees up performance from the GPU, along with MSAA which is less demanding than rendering the full resolution, providing an image that’s still visually incredible.
While this method of rendering is by no means an improvement over rendering the image in its true resolution, it can provide a noticeable performance benefit when GPU resources aren’t able to deliver. This technique is usually combined with a number of effects in post-processing that aids in improving the image, so that it’s not blurry or suffering from pixel crawling. Games which currently incorporate this technique include Rainbow Six Siege, Watch Dogs 2, and Quantum Break.
As the most common of all image settings featured in the majority of games, I hope this guide will be useful – encouraging gamers to tweak and discover new ways to optimize their games to their personal experiences.